The Seattle Mariners had no interest in free agent Jim Thome, who signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia the other day, but Thome may be the prototypical example of why the Mariners always seem to over-pay when they do land free agents.
If the Mariners had wanted Thome, say as a designated hitter, they'd have needed more than the $1.25 million he signed for in Philadelphia. Need proof? A year ago, they paid Jack Cust $2.5 million.
The reality is, virtually every free agent has options, and when they weigh them, three factors rank highest: winning, geography and money.
Take, for instance, Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder. He's coming off his second post-season in seven years and wants to get back. He's played his entire career in Milwaukee, which doesn't leave it's own time zone for weeks at a time playing National League Central teams, and never flies further than one coast or the other. And he's looking for a 10-year deal.
The Mariners are not contenders, and adding Fielder in 2012 would make them better, but not enough to leap-frog three teams in the American League West. From the Northwest, Seattle flies more miles than any team in baseball and is often handed brutal trips. Next year, for example, one trip has them play New York, Baltimore and Los Angeles, meaning the Mariners cross the country not once but twice on the same trip.
Another trip has them going to New York, Boston, Cleveland and Colorado. Go ahead, dangle that in front of a player pondering where to play.
So, when it comes down to money, the Mariners must offer more than anyone else. They can't promise contention like the Philadelphia or Texas, New York or Boston. A beautiful ball park - usually about half full - isn't much of an incentive if the option includes the chance to play in a World Series.
Thome signed with a National League team, meaning he went from a DH to a PH - essentially a pinch-hitter. Why not stay in the AL, where he could have played all but fulltime with someone? He wanted the chance at a ring, and knows his career is near its end. The Phillies are contenders.
That doesn't mean the Seattle Mariners can't sign free agents. They can and have. They've just overpaid for the right, and if they set their sights on a high-end player like Fielder, it's going to cost them more than they've ever spent before.